Is the city preparing to put stop signs at traffic circles and roundabouts across Lawrence?

Stop signs at the traffic circle at 18th and Indiana streets.

A reader asked me a question about four new stop signs in town, but I think what he really was asking was: Is the city of Lawrence trying to make the heads of motorists explode?

The four relatively new stop signs are at the intersection of 18th and Indiana streets, which is between Lawrence High School and the KU campus. The stop signs are unusual because the 18th and Indiana intersection already has a traffic circle. If you are not familiar with the nomenclature, a traffic circle is a smaller cousin to a roundabout. If you are not familiar with a roundabout, you must be particularly adept at finding other things to argue about because roundabouts have been a prime argument topic in Lawrence since shortly after the wheel was invented.

Traffic circles and roundabouts are not designed to have stop signs. In fact, one of their primary purposes is to control traffic at an intersection without requiring traffic to unnecessarily stop and create long lines of vehicles waiting to get through the intersection.

But in recent months, city crews installed the stop signs at the 18th and Indiana traffic circle. That has caused some people to wonder whether this is some sort of test case by the city. Is it preparing to put stop signs at the dozens of roundabouts and traffic circles that exist across the city? Is Vladimir Putin somehow behind all this?

Well, maybe just a few of us have that last question, but it is safe to say many people would be upset if stop signs started showing up at roundabouts across the city. Well, no need to worry.

Amanda Sahin, transportation engineer for the city, told me the stop signs aren’t a test case, and city engineers understand that normally stop signs and traffic circles/roundabouts don’t go together. But she said city officials heard a compelling case this summer for why the stop signs ought to be installed. There is a Lawrence High student who lives in the neighborhood who is visually impaired. He travels through that intersection every day. His mother asked the city to please put up the stop signs and crosswalks in hopes that they would draw more attention to the need for motorists to be cautious at the intersection.

The stops signs were approved for only a one-year period. The LHS student is a senior, so his daily walks to the high school are set to come to an end. At that point, the city will review the stop signs and could remove them. We’ll see. Traditionally, removing a stop sign from a neighborhood can be politically perilous. As odd as it may sound, most residents don’t care how commissioners vote on a $100 million-plus city budget, but if they take out the stop sign that they think is slowing down traffic in their neighborhood, you’ve lost their vote for good.

The whole thing is kind of an interesting situation. I suppose some people could find it odd that the city would make changes to its street system based on a single pedestrian. But I suspect there are many people who feel good about it. Those stop signs are a reminder that Lawrence still is a small town at heart. A mother worried about her son can still get city government to do something to lend a helping hand. Even if you don’t like big city devices like traffic circles and roundabouts, you may still like that small-town spirit.